Progression

We have learned from the field of chemical dependency and alcoholism that addiction is progressive. There is certainly evidence that this is true, but to attempt to describe one model of progression into which all people will fit is a fallacy.

Jellinek Chart

E. M. Jellinek, in his 1960 classic, Disease Concept of Alcoholism, described a downward progression of alcoholism. These ideas have since been spread through a U-shaped curve that has been called the Jellinek Chart. People have taken this classic chart and applied it to every other addictive disease observed.

The above image was taken from an Indiana courts PDF assumed to be in the public domain.

The problem is that this model does not appear to accurately describe reality for many addicts. The further you get from classic alcoholism, the less people will relate to the generalizations found on this chart. Since we use a physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual model for all addiction, we find people’s experience does not always follow a downward deterioration in all these areas. Many have actually grown and made progress in many areas of their lives. So we prefer not to describe an overall model of downward progression for people to try to fit into.

Physical Progression

The one area that progression seems to fit in best is the physical aspect of the disease. This can be observed by looking at specific addiction patterns.

Rollercoaster Many addicts’ behavior resembles a rollercoaster. Drinking increases, then decreases, then increases again. The addict is confronted by family or employer, and there is a period of “good behavior” followed by a worsening condition, followed by another effort to do better. There is weight gain, weight loss, more weight gain, up and down, on and on rollercoaster-fashion.

Steady increase Some people have simply had a steady increase of addictive behavior over the years. Drinking or using increases gradually. This pattern is most common when there is little attempt to control the addictive behavior.

Hitting bottom The idea of “hitting bottom” is not very useful as far as we are concerned. You can be open to help depending on a variety of factors. Your awareness of the addiction, seeing that you can’t control it the way you could previously, and the amount of effort needed to maintain the illusion of control are all signs that the disease is progressing. They may also be realities that make you receptive to treatment and recovery. For an alternative to “hitting bottom,” see the page Awareness Ratio.

Recovery Is Progressive

Recovery also has a pattern, but how that pattern unfolds is highly individual. Factors in the progression of recovery include:

  • How seriously your addiction has affected your life
  • The severity of dysfunction in your family of origin
  • How much personal growth you have already done
  • How addiction still affects other areas of your life
  • Whether or not you have success in another Twelve-Step program

It does appear that success depends on the fact that you attempt to continue to grow spiritually, or you may easily find yourself progressing in the direction of relapse rather than recovery.


Progression, see also: Addiction, Alcoholism, Allergies, Behavior, Binge history, Bingeing, Biochemistry, Blackouts, Drugs, Eating addiction, Employee assistance programs, Moodifiers, Physical aspects, Purging, Tolerance, Unmanageability, Withdrawal.

Updated 7 Sep 2015

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Addictionary 2 by Jan & Judy Wilson

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